Tag Archives: literature
One source of my inspiration as a writer has always been the lyrics of singer-songwriters, popular poets of the modern age. John Mayer refers at one point to having been “born in the arms of imaginary friends.” Another John – John Denver – earlier referred to having been “born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year, coming home to a place he’d never been before.” Both of these lines have special meaning for me.
Since I was old enough to read, I have wanted to be a novelist. I remember, as a child, drawing countless pictures in crayon in what would now be called a graphic novel format. Unfortunately, the study of literary criticism during my undergrad years stifled much of this burgeoning creativity. Life put paid to the rest – career, marriage, kids – I had given up every realizing my youthful dream. But I never gave up thinking about plot, setting and characters —about story-telling.
In the summer of 2010, I had just celebrated my fifty-fifth birthday. As the result of reading an ad for Continuing Studies’ Summer Writing School at U of T, I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and submit the first chapter of a novel as consideration for acceptance. My attendance at the workshop was approved, tuition paid, vacation arranged at work and off I went to the St. George campus for the first time in more than thirty years.
I loved it.
My instructor for the week was Susan Swan, who convinced me that my book idea had both commercial and literary potential. Together with my fellow students, an eclectic and extremely talented group that included two teachers, a financial analyst and two medical doctors (one of them also a ballerina, if you can dig it), we sweltered all week, both figuratively and literally, in a small Innis College classroom. The end of that workshop was a defining moment for me: I loved the writer’s life, the work, the camaraderie, the mutual support and even the prospect of loneliness and inevitable bouts of rejection no longer appeared so daunting. It was then that I realized that I am a writer – I always have been; it was what I was meant to be. I may not be in a position to write for a living, but I recognize the calling and will practice it for whatever time I am granted.
As a weaver of dreams, I have about twelve novels bouncing around inside of my skull. It’s time to get back to work.
It fascinates me how the writing each person brings to our group is so different from everyone else’s. We share, obviously, a common language, and, from our background in University of Toronto writing classes, most of us have access to a common body of writing technique – the ‘craft’. Yet our work is so varied. I also observe that each of us is driven to write. We’re not searching for inspiration; we each already have a story, fiction or ‘true’, that we want to tell. The problem sometimes, as Andrew said last month, is getting down to it.
As an aside, I wonder about my colleagues’ writing spaces. The Guardian newspaper in the UK once ran a series of little vignettes in which established authors shared a photo and some notes on where they wrote. I used to pore over those photos, looking for clues to their genius, ideas that I could copy. They mostly had a study or office, with objects that grounded them and perhaps gave a cue to their writing muscle that when they sat down there it was time to start writing. Although, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Hilary Mantel writes at least some of her work in the shower. Presumably not on a laptop.
Personally, most of the material for my novel so far was written on the subway. Pieces of it came to me while I was walking, often up to the subway on my way to work, and I’d have to scribble the words down as soon as I could. Makes me wonder about Jane Austen, writing at the table in the family’s drawing room. Did her family just ignore her, like my fellow commuters ignored me? Who needs a room of their own?
I’m trying to be more disciplined now as I map these pieces into a structure, and fill it all in. It’s instructive here to read how established writers work, what their method or style of writing is. Again, there are so many variations. I was thrilled when a writing instructor at U of T said one author wrote their scenes on index cards then shuffled and assembled them – kind of what I’ve been doing… And apparently Margaret Atwood plays with the order of her chapters by printing them out and shifting the piles around. But some writers have everything plotted out before they start filling in. It seems that J.K. Rowling spent five years planning the Harry Potter books. That was after the inspiration just came to her – on a train journey.
What is surprising is how many well-known authors write longhand, at least for their first draft. Even with a specific type of pen, like Amitav Ghosh, or in particular makes of notebook, like Michael Ondaatje.
Someday I’ll ask my group where and how they write. And when. In our time together we’re usually too busy reviewing and discussing each other’s stories. After all, that’s what it’s all about.